Brookline War Memorial
James G. Collins

The Vietnam War Memorial
Washington D.C.

SP4 James G. Collins
United States Army (1966-1968)

United States Army (1775-present)

James Gilbert Collins was born on July 6, 1947, the oldest son of Albert J. and Francis Collins. He had three brothers, Dale, Andre and Chet, and one sister, Eleanor. The Collins family lived at lived at 710 Dunster Street and were member of Our Lady of Loreto Church. As a youngster, James played Little League baseball in South Side at Quarry Field.

A graduate of West Liberty Elementary School and South Hills High School, where he was a member of the Swim Team, James was working for his Uncle Art Keston as a contractor building Ryan Homes when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. At the time he owned a 1964 Mustang, something his younger brother Chet remembers fondly from frequent trips to the zoo with his older brother.

Shortly before receiving his draft notice, in October 1966, James married his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Talak, who lived next door on Dunster Street. James Collins left his new bride in December, at the age of nineteen, to enter the Army.

After boot camp he was assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division. Known as the Big Red One, the Division was, at that time, deployed in the Republic of Vietnam. Before being sent overseas, James spent some time at home with his family, then enjoyed a two week visit in Hawaii with his wife Barbara.

James G. Collins

The 28th Infantry Regiment has a storied history. It is called "The Lions of Cantigny" or "Black Lions" for its heroics in both World War I and World War II. During the Vietnam War, the unit had already lived up to its reputation during several successful operations in country since first being deployed on October 10, 1965.

The 1st Battalion was nominally assigned to the 1st Brigade with its main base at Phouc Vinh, and later at Quan Loi, and Lai Khe. Due to the mobile and scattered nature of the combat operations, the battalion was frequently assigned to other Brigades.

The Black Lions fought in many of the 1st Infantry Division's major engagements. The unit was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for its gallant actions during the battle of Ap Cha Do Operation Attleboro in November 1966. The battalion also participated in Operations Cedar Falls, Tucson and Junction City.

        

Private James Collins joined his unit in Vietnam to begin his tour of duty on June 30, 1967. His first combat operation was Paul Bunyan from July 19 to September 11. It was a land clearing operation in support of the Rome Plows (bulldozers) of the 27th Land Clearing Team. They killed three Viet Cong guerillas and recovered a large cache of explosive material, including several bombs.

Operation Bluefield II followed from September 23 to 28, a search and destroy and road clearing mission. Next was Operation Shenandoah I from October 16 to November 2. After encountering a sizeable Viet Cong force near Lai Khe area, the 1st Battalion, along with the 1/26th established a cordon around the enemy and, after intensive air and artillery bombardment, cleared the area. Although many of the enemy escaped during the evening, the infantrymen found seventy dead Viet Cong guerillas scattered about on the following day.

From January 20 through January 26, 1968, the battalion participated in Operation Atalla/Casey, a search and destroy operation in the Binh Long Province. After that the troops returned to their base camp at Quan Loi, about ninety-five kilometers north of Saigon. There they would conduct routine road security operations and base camp security sweeps while the Vietnamese observed the traditional cease-fire during the Tet holiday.

1st U.S. Infantry Division    1st U.S. Infantry Division
28th Infantry soldiers with Chinese claymore mines (left) and exiting a Huey helicopter after being airlifted.

The enemy leaders in Hanoi announced that the truce was to last seven days from January 27 through February 3. However, due to recent intelligence that pointed to an upsurge in enemy activity and rumors of an attack either immediately before or after Tet, the South Vietnamese Army reduced the cease-fire to thirty-six hours.

American commanding General Westmoreland cancelled the cease fire altogether in the northern I Corps Area of Operations, but in the Saigon III Corps area, and the other two Corps zones, he could not convince the ARVN commanders to do the same.

On January 28, eleven Viet Cong battle cadres were captured in Qui Nhon. The ARVN forces in all four corps areas were put on alert the following day, but still lacked general concern about the coming offensive. On the evening of January 30, 200 U.S. officers, all of whom served on the MACV intelligence staff, attended a pool party at their quarters in Saigon.

At midnight on January 31, all hell broke loose across the entire breadth of the Republic of Vietnam. Communist guerillas and North Vietnamese regulars assaulted nearly every major city in the country. Over 84,000 enemy combatants participated in the attacks, and thousands more acted as reinforcements or as blocking forces in support of the offensive.

1st U.S. Infantry Division    1st U.S. Infantry Division
28th Infantry soldiers heading out on a base security sweep (left) and saddled up for an operation.

That morning, 1st Battalion's Alpha Company was conducting a security sweep in the rubber plantation south of their base camp at Quan Loi when the Company commander received a call from the base operations officer. "Alpha Six, this is Defiant Three. Return to base camp immediately." At the same time, Charlie and Delta Companies were on perimeter security assignments. They too received a similar urgent message to return to base camp.

Charlie and Delta Companies, and the battalion recon platoon, were formed into a battalion task force and ordered to secure an airfield at Phu Loi, a base camp southeast of Lai Khe and northeast of Saigon. Task Force Taylor had a brief stop at Lai Khe, then Charlie and Delta companies and the recon platoon continued on to Phu Loi.

Phu Loi was a huge base camp. According to task force commancer Major John Taylor, “With just two companies and the recon platoon, the best we could do was set up roving patrols around the airfield and protective revetments, thus protecting aircraft from VC sappers, and be a reaction force if any ground attack hit the base.”

On the evening of January 31, Taylor heard reports of large enemy movements around the hamlet of An My, about two kilometers off the northwest end of Phu Loi’s airstrip. During the night, the task force was bolstered with firepower from the 1st Division’s B Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, which consisted of ACAVs, a tank platoon and a platoon of M42 Dusters, armored vehicles with a turret that housed two 40mm anti-aircraft guns. The task force had become a combined-arms battle group of about 300 men.

M42 Duster
An M42 Duster twin 40mm anti-aircraft gun near Saigon.

At daylight on February 1, Taylor sent his men across open fields to the An My area to check out the reports of enemy activity. The task force came under heavy fire as it neared An My. It was estimated that they were facing about 1,500 enemy troops.

At one point all of the men in one M42 Duster crew were wounded. Soldiers from Charlie Company jumped on the Duster and took over its operation for the rest of the fight. The Duster platoon leader was so impressed by their proficiency he wanted to keep them. This was the first time that any of the Black Lion soldiers had seen a Duster yet they quickly figured out how to operate it while under fire.

The battle at An My lasted until 5:35pm, when the task force broke contact and returned to Phu Loi. The area was then pounded with artillery and gunships all evening. The task force returned the next morning to secure the village. They met with only light resistance and found sixty-five confirmed enemy dead and a cache of abandoned weapons. Task Force Taylor had successfully defended An My against two NVA regiments.

1st U.S. Infantry Division    1st U.S. Infantry Division
28th Infantry Regiment field command post (left) and casualties preparing for evacuation.

The 1st Battalion of the Black Lions continued to engage in firefights throughout the month of February, including another heavy battle with an NVA regiment in the Thu Duc area on February 20. They did not return to their base camp at Quan Loi until March 1.

Although the Tet Offensive attacks against Saigon were quickly repulsed, more than twenty Viet Cong battalions remained in the Gia Dinh Province threatening Saigon. In addition, several NVA regiments were still active in the area. These enemy forces conducted frequent rocket attacks and guerilla raids. While most of these units had suffered heavy losses, their presence prevented the reestablishment of government control.

The 1st Battalion was called upon once again to participate in Operation Quyet Thang, a major security sweep to clear the enemy from the Gia Dinh Province. The operation began on March 11 and ended on April 7. The results were successful. The enemy forces withdrew to more remote areas allowing ARVN forces to reestablish control around the capital city.

During his time in country, James Gilbert of the Black Lions had risen to the rank of Specialist Four. Now in his eleventh month, it was still too soon for Sergeant Gilbert to begin thinking about home. But, surely his wife and family back in Brookline were starting to count the days until his return and trying hard to quell their fears over the recent downturn in developments on the battle front.

Mini-Tet 'May' Offensive in Saigon
The North Vietnamese May Offensive "Mini-Tet" in Saigon.

Although the Tet Offensive was considered a dismal tactical failure for the North Vietnamese, the strategic consequences faired much better for the Communists. Far from the battlefield, emissaries from the warring countries were now planning to gather in Paris to begin Peace Talks. Scheduled to start on May 13, these negotiations were a direct result of the North Vietnamese effort.

In an effort to bolster their position at the upcoming peace talks, the enemy reformed their scattered forces and reinforced them with new units sent down the Ho Chi Minh Trail for another offensive strike, known as Mini-Tet. In late-April, attacks began in the north near the DMZ. Then, on May 4, the enemy struck at 119 targets throughout the south of the country. A total of thirteen Viet Cong battalions attacked at Saigon.

To the north of the city, the 1st Battalion was once again engaged in a defensive struggle against a determined adversary, and once again the Viet Cong drive was repulsed with heavy casualties. By the eleventh of May, the offensive had ground to a halt and the friendly forces were engaged in clearing sweeps, pushing the enemy back from the capital city.

On May 11, Specialist Four James Collins was leading his men on a security sweep near the village of Thu Duc when they encountered a strong force of enemy combatants. During this engagement, Specialist James Gilbert Collins, age 20, of Brookline, was killed in action. For his heroism on that day he was awarded the Bronze Star with the "V" device for valor.

The text of Specialist James Gilbert Collins' Bronze Star Citation reads:

May 11, 1968
Awarded Bronze Star with "V" Device

For heroism not involving participation in aerial flight, in connection with military operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. On this date, Specialist Collins was serving as an automatic rifleman with his company on a reconnaissance in force operation five kilometers west of Thu Duc. The lead element of the friendly force was crossing a rice paddy when they suddenly began to receive automatic weapons, machine gun, and rocket fire from well concealed Viet Cong positions within a wood line. Upon initial contact Specialist Collins rushed forward and began placing devastating fire on the insurgents. His quick reactions provided cover for the other members of his platoon to safely take up firing positions.

As the firefight intensified, Specialist Collins spotted several of his comrades lying wounded in an open area. Disregarding the danger of the heavy enemy fire, he rushed across the bullet swept area and carried the wounded men to a secure area for evacuation. Returning to the heavy fighting, Specialist Collins detected and immediately assaulted a Viet Cong machine gun emplacement. Utilizing hand grenades and accurate fire from his personal weapon, he was able to silence the hostile position. When ammunition resupply helicopters landed in a nearby area, Specialist Collins again moved across the battlefield and returned with vital ammunition for his comrades. He then continued to engage the insurgents until hit and mortally wounded by the hostile fire.

His exemplary courage and determined efforts saved several friendly lives and contributed greatly to the defeat of the large Viet Cong force. Specialist Four Collins' outstanding display of aggressiveness, devotion to duty, and personal bravery is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

James G. Collins

After the passing of Specialist Collins, the Black Lions of the 28th Infantry Regiment continued to take the battle to the enemy. They remained at their Quan Loi base near Saigon and fought on through several more operations until April 8, 1970, when they were brought back home to America.

The Vietnam War itself dragged on for another five years after the Black Lions departure. In the end, after eleven years of indecisive war, the United States settled for what former-President Richard M. Nixon called "Peace With Honor."

At the time of his death, Specialist James Collins was only forty-two days shy of completing his thirteen month tour of duty in Vietnam. News of his passing reached his wife and family two weeks later. Notice appeared in the Pittsburgh Press on May 31. While the neighborhood mourned the loss of another brave soul, a Gold Star appeared in the window of the Collins' home at 710 Dunster Street.

One year after James was drafted, his brother Dale Collins followed in his footsteps and, in late-1967, enlisted in the service. Dale chose to join the United States Marine Corps. After the death of his oldest son, Albert Collins made an impassioned request that his second son Dale be spared the horrors of war and given a non-combat assignment. Dale spent his time in the Marines stationed in Okinawa.

Specialist Four James G. Collins became the 50th soldier from the community of Brookline to fall in battle since World War I. His body was returned to the United States and, after a funeral service at Our Lady of Loreto Church, was buried at Saint Michaels Cemetery in Mount Oliver. James Collins' name is also memorialized on the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. on Panel 58E, Line 19.

 SP4 James Gilbert Collins - Virtual Wall 

* Thanks to Dale and Chet Collins for sharing information and photos of their brother James. *

* Written by Clint Burton: May 10, 2018 *




The Brookline War Memorial

The Brookline Veteran's Memorial.

Listed below are many of the sons of Brookline who gave their
lives to preserve freedom and contain aggression during
World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”
General George S. Patton
 

United States Army (1775-present)  United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)  United States Navy (1775-present)  United States Marine Corps (1775-present)
United States Coast Guards (1790-present)  United States Air Force (1947-present)  United States Merchant Marine (1775-present)

World War I (1917-1919)

Percy Digby

Digby, David P.
Mayville Avenue
Army

Details

Raymond P. Cronin

Cronin, Raymond P.
Berkshire Avenue
USMC

Details

Charles Luppe

Luppe, Charles
Ferncliffe Avenue
Army

Details

WW1 Memorial - Washington D.C.
The World War I Memorial - Washington D.C.

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World War II (1941-1945)


Alm William H.
Pioneer Avenue
Army

Details


Arensberg, Roy T.
Fernhill Avenue
Army

Details


Brickley, Edward G.
Woodward Avenue
Army

Details


Bruni, Lawrence A.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Capogreca, James J.
Merrick Avenue
Navy

Details


Copeland, Clarence R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Cullison, Thomas J.
Birtley Avenue
Army

Details


Dempsey, Howard F.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Dempsey, Walter F.
Milan Avenue
Navy

Details


Diegelman, Edward R. Jr
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Dornetto, Frank P.
Jacob Street
Navy

Details


Fagan, Gerald B.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Falk, Harold E.
Pioneer Avenue
Army

Details


Fehring, Robert M.
Fernhill Avenue
Army

Details


Hynes, Richard E.
Waddington Avenue
Army

Details


Jackson, Robert E.
Brookline
Army

 


Kestler, Paul C.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Ketters, Robert C.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Mahoney, Michael J.
Oakridge Street
Army

Details


Majestic, Arthur B.
Starkamp Avenue
Army

Details


Mayberry, Alexander G.
Breining Street
Army

Details


Mazza, John
Alwyn Street
Army

Details


McCann, Robert F.
Edgebrook Avenue
Navy

Details


McFarland, Hugh R.
McNeilly Road
Army

Details


Miller, William J.
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Napier, Edward J.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details


Nicholson, John D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


O'Day, John R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Orient, Andrew D.
Fordham Avenue
Army

Details


Pisiecki, Raymond A.
Wolford Avenue
Army

Details


Reeves, Alfred M.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details


Reitmeyer, John P.
Bellaire Avenue
Navy

Details


Rhing, Vern M.
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Shannon, Harry C.
Midland Street
Army

Details


Shannon, Jack E.
Midland Street
USMC

Details


Simpson, James D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Spack, Harry
Linial Avenue
Army

Details


Vierling, Howard F.
Fordham Avenue
Army

Details


Wagner, Ralph G.
Shawhan Avenue
Army

Details


Wentz, Walter L. Jr
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Zeiler, Harold V.
West Liberty Avenue
Army

Details

WW2 Memorial - Washington D.C.
The World War II Memorial - Washington D.C.

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Korean War (1950-1953)

Patrick Gallagher

Gallagher, Patrick J.
Bodkin Street
Army

Details

James Gormley

Gormley, James W.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details

Gerald Hilliard

Hilliard, Gerald G.
Edgebrook Avenue
Army

Details

James McKenna

McKenna, James E.
Bellaire Place
Army

Details

Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.
Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.

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Vietnam War (1965-1973)

James Robert Bodish

Bodish, James R.
Plainview Avenue
Army

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

James Gilbert Collins

Collins, James G.
Dunster Street
Army

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

James Charles Wonn

Wonn, James C.
Mayville Avenue
Navy

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

Vietnam War Memorial - Washington D.C.
Vietnam War Memorial - Washington D.C.




The Brookline Monument - The Cannon

Brookline Veteran's Park - April 26, 2014.

<Brookline War Memorial> <> <Brookline History>